It took seven State of the Union addresses, but President Obama finally gave a shout-out to the DREAMers.
The president casually used the term—which refers to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children—in the same way he described other upstanding groups of people in his final annual address.
I see your quiet, sturdy citizenship all the time.
I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages to keep him on board. I see it in the Dreamer who stays up late to finish her science project, and the teacher who comes in early because he knows she might someday cure a disease. I see it in the American who served his time, and dreams of starting over — and the business owner who gives him that second chance. The protester determined to prove that justice matters, and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe. [Emphasis ours]
The reference marks the first time the word has an appeared in any State of the Union speech. A White House spokesperson confirmed to Fusion that the president was referring to young immigrants.
And for the president, the term is personal—it’s a word that evolved into a youth-led movement over the president’s seven years in office.
In the years before Obama took office in 2009, immigrant youth were supposed to keep their immigration status to themselves. But through their advocacy on behalf of the DREAM Act, legislation that would have granted them legal status, they became proud to say they were undocumented and unafraid. In his January 2012 State of the Union address, the president acknowledged immigrant youth by saying they were “hard-working students” who were “American through and through, yet they live every day with the threat of deportation.”
Then in June that same year the president stood in the Rose Garden and made an announcement that would transform the lives of young people who entered the country without proper authorization before their 16th birthday. “Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people,” the president said.
But the president didn’t arrive at that Rose Garden on his own. The president announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program after years of immigrant youth pushing him for legislation that would legalize their presence in the country that raised them. There were years of civil disobedience actions, including interrupting the president’s own speeches.
At one event in 2011 more than a dozen immigrant youth stood holding their hands over their heads while the president delivered a speech. They were wearing t-shirts that read “Obama Deports DREAMers.”
Now President Obama’s last State of the Union address comes at a time when he is deporting an entirely new group of immigrant youth. His last address had no mention of the mothers and children the Obama administration has declared they will round up in raids and deport. Or the mothers and fathers of that “Dreamer” who stays up late to finish her science project.